REFLECTIONS: Wrestling with Scripture #5
In Genesis 1:26, God says “… Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness,” a distinction that separates humans from all other creatures. But what does it mean to be made in God’s image?
A quick check of a concordance reveals that the word image in Hebrew typically refers to an object of worship and is translated idol in other OT passages, while the word likeness means more what we would expect: figure, form, or resemblance. Putting these two ideas together suggests that God made us to resemble Him so that everywhere we look we see little, breathing statues of God.
I’ve also heard that the phrase “image and likeness” can allude to a shadow—a partial picture that reflects a greater reality of the One who casts it. Again, the verse paints an amazing word picture that we were created to reflect God’s glory. So, what had He revealed about Himself to this point?
God is eternal, authoritative, and lifegiving. He is a God of order who clearly displays discernment, generosity, and creativity. By granting Adam guardianship over His garden and the right to name the animals, God is sharing His authority. By blessing Eve with the privilege of childbearing, He is blessing her with His divine ability to create new life in His image. God carefully fashioned man and woman to emulate His character and demonstrate his attributes using the gifts and talents they were given.
As born-again New Testament believers, we are also called to be image bearers. Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” Since Jesus is the exact representation of God’s character (Heb 1:3), we are called to the seemingly impossible task to be like our Creator. We are told, “Be Holy, as I am holy.” Sounds intimidating until you realize that holy means to be set apart. Just as God is set above and apart from all else, He wants us to be uniquely separate from the world—thinking, speaking, and acting differently than unbelievers. But to become like Jesus, we first need an accurate picture of Him and His teachings.
Jesus says He is the light of the world. He also tells us that we are the light of the world and that we are to let our light shine—or make the light manifest. We reflect Jesus’ light into a dark world when we share the good news of the Gospel and what Jesus has done in our lives.
Jesus was countercultural. He advocated for the powerless of His time: women, the poor, the handicapped. He challenged the hypocrisy of so-called religious men who did not practice what they said they believed. Although He was gentle with sinners, He did not hesitate to call their behavior wrong and to tell them to repent and sin no more. Jesus was humble and forgiving. Although greatly and unfairly wronged, He did not retaliate in kind or hold a grudge. He understood our flawed human condition and forgave our poor behavior.
Jesus was compassionate. He told us to love one another. He said that if we don’t love our brother, then the love of the Father is not in us. He told us to love our neighbors and our enemies. He told us to walk in love and speak the truth in love. He promises us that nothing can separate us from His love. He says He loved us before we loved Him.
But He also tells us not to love the world (1 John 2:15) and that as many as He loves, He rebukes (Rev 3:19). Christian love should be sincere and unconditional, but it is not meant to be a blanket acceptance of sinful behavior. Love is clearly an essential attribute of God, but unfortunately, too many Christians proclaim His love and ignore His holiness. God hates sin and His justice demands impartial judgment. Jesus demonstrated amazing love toward us, but He never condoned sin, and neither should we. If we truly love God, then we will love all the blood-bought people He died to save. Jesus wants none to perish and calls us to rescue the lost. It is not love to let anyone continue blindly in sin to his or her own destruction.
Finally, we need to consider the eternal nature of God. Does being made in His image mean that we are born with an immortal soul? For years, I would have said yes without hesitation, that when God created man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him—and to us by extension—we received an imperishable soul, destined for either heaven or hell. But is that what Scripture teaches?
Check back next week for my thoughts on this crucial and complex topic.